Nxai Pan is a salt pan in Botswana known for its ancient, towering baobab trees.
Nxai Pan National Park, originally part of the same lake system as the Makgadikgadi and lying about 50km northwest of the larger pan, covers around 2000 sq km and has a more permanent game population, including elephant, giraffe and big predators. Nxai is known as a good place to photograph leopard.
The sense of isolation and space out on the pans are indescribable. Several ‘islands' dot the pans, usually grown over with tall palms, similar to those in the Okavango, or baobab trees. One island just south of Nxai Pan, known as Baines Baobabs, is a particularly startling sight amidst the surrounding barrenness. It has become one of the most photographed landmarks in Southern Africa. During the rainy season - December to April - large herds of game such as wildebeest, zebra, gemsbok, springbok and eland converge on the area, and game watching can be exceptionally rewarding. Giraffes are also found here, as well as an occasional elephant venturing down from further north. Birds include kori bustards, korhaans and red-necked falcons.
In addition to wildlife, there are several points of interest throughout the park. One is the "old trek route", a trail that was used between the 1950's and 1960's as a shortcut through Ngamiland to Kazungula via Pandamatenga. A number of boreholes were established to water the cattle and men on their long trek. Some of these boreholes are now being re-equipped to provide water for wildlife, including the permanent waterhole near the park's entrance gate. The "bushman pits" date even further back. Near the edge of a small pan area, small pits were dug by the Bushmen in which they could hide whilst hunting wild animals that came to drink, enjoying closer range for the use of their bows and arrows.
Nxai Pan National Park caters well for families, with a family unit for families to stay in that will allow some solid family bonding time, as well as a special family safari. On this family safari, the guide and the tracker are trained specifically for this purpose. This is a great way to teach your children more about wildlife and plant growth and the African environment.
Many people have misconceptions about Africa due to movies and the media. One phenomenon that is not exaggerated, however, that you can experience first-hand at the Nxai Pan National Park, is the animals all coming together to drink water and cool off around a large waterhole at dusk – it is an amazing sight to behold.
The old lake bed that the Nxai Pan National Park stands on is, these days, generously covered with acacia trees in the northern part of the park, and in the south is covered with baobabs in an area called ‘Baines Baobabs’, named after Thomas Baines, a painter who was part of Livingstone’s expedition and immortalized this vista on his canvas.
Guests will be met at OR Tambo International where they will be assisted in transferring to Maun Airport in Botswana. It is a one hour light aircraft flight from Maun Airport to the airstrip near Nxai Pan. Remember that light aircraft flights can be bumpy, especially the landings – if you are uncomfortable with small planes, please speak to an African Sky consultant so that we can make other arrangements.
The Nxai Pan National Park is about 500km north of Gaborone. The drive is quite arduous, but covers beautiful landscapes and is a great way to get to know the area. African Sky guests, however, will be transported directly to the park in a light aircraft where, upon arrival, an experienced guide will transport you in a 4x4 vehicle to the lodge.
There is no bad time to visit the Nxai Pan National Park, but the rainy season would be the best time to visit. This season lasts from November to April, and will give you more opportunities to view the wildlife. During this time, visitors should be wary of roads being blocked due to floods, our team will always ensure that you are traveling on safe roads.
During the dry season, which is from May to October, there are other perks to visiting the Nxai Pan National Park. Traveling is easier, as the absence of rain means less complications on the roads. During this time you can also experience the remoteness of the desert, with fewer tourists interrupting the peace, and you can watch the pulse-quickening interaction between predator and prey.
Originally the area where the Nxai Pan National Park is located today was state land. Until 1960, it was used for overland cattle drives. It was declared a national park in 1970. In 1992, the boundaries were extended to include the area where Baines Baobabs stand. Today, the Nxai Pan National Park is 2578 square kilometers in extent. The pans started forming more than five million years ago. The Okavango River, the Chobe and the upper part of the Zambezi flowed differently than they do today. Where the Nxai Pan is today, there used to be water. Therefore, the remains of the riverbed formed the Nxai Pan. The word “Nxai” refers to a hook used to remove spring hares from their holes.
In the 1800’s, Thomas Baines and his comrade John Chapman traveled through the Nxai Pan in ox wagons. They were coming from Namibia and their destination was the Victoria Falls. They made a pitstop in the Nxai Pan close to the group of baobabs. Chapman marked the baobabs as being at least 4 000 years old. They were so amazed by these “upside down trees”, that Baines decided to paint them and the picture became famous. That is how this cluster of baobabs earned the name “Baines Baobabs”. These trees still look identical to when Baines immortalized them on canvas in the 1800’s. Today, Baines Baobabs are a national monument.
The salt plain is a prime sport for game viewing. Once the rainy season is kicked off in November or December, thousands of animals come in herds to the Nxai Pan National Park. The park is transformed into a “Garden of Eden”. The waterhole, which is 2km from the main entrance, is the best place to see all of these animals living together harmoniously. Permanent residents of the area surrounding the waterhole - the mopane woodland and a grassy area with short umbrella thorn trees - are lion, giraffe, kudu, impala, ostrich, fascinating birdlife, large numbers of springbok, a sizable population of jackal, bat-eared fox and numerous smaller creatures.
Staggering numbers of animals join these residents during the rainy season. Herds of thousands of zebra, gemsbok and wildebeest migrate to this area. Large herds of other antelope and giraffes also join them. If you visit the park during the rainy season, you can expect to see many young springbok. During the drier months between May and October, circumstances are very different for animals in the Nxai Pan National Park. As the earth becomes bare, the animals need to fight for resources and ultimately survival. Expect to see showdowns as the water dries up and interactions between animals become less amenable.
In essence, the Nxai Pan National Park is an arid wasteland during the dry season from May to October, when it becomes so dry that animals have to fight for their lives due to a lack of food and water. There are different types of vegetation in different parts of the park. In the northern part of the park, the soil tends to be almost clay-like because there is more moisture present, therefore trees like the Mopane cover the greater part of this section. The majority of the park is void of vegetation and covered in short grass. Of course these salt pans are also famous for their baobab trees. Baines Baobabs have become an icon of Botswana.
The Nxai Pan along with surrounding salt pans receive water from the Nata River that runs through Botswana. The inland sea that once existed where the Nxai Pan is today started drying up about 10 000 years ago. They are known as 'salt pans' because, as the water evaporated, large salt crystals were formed. These salt pans stretch as far as the eye can see. The Nxai Pan is part of the greater Makgadikgadi Pans. This inland sea used to comprise about 80 000 square kilometers – then called Lake Makgadikgadi. These days, the Nxai Pan is a fossil lake bed. A lot depends on rainfall in this region, as that determines whether or not the earth will be able to supply resources to the animals.
Game viewing will be the main activity in the Nxai Pan National Park. There are specific times during the day that game drives are allowed, but luckily this includes the time that all the animals come together at the watering hole around sunset – possibly one of the most breathtaking sights you will ever see. Game viewing is best in the rainy season from November to April, as the zebra migration reaches the Nxai Pan National Park during that time. This includes around 25 000 zebras. Other animals that you might see include wildebeest, springbok, lions, cheetahs and many more.
A sight that you definitely need to see when you visit the Nxai Pan National Park is Baines Baobabs. This is a cluster of seven baobab trees in the middle of a dry salt pan. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 4 000 years old. They were stumbled upon by Thomas Baines, who immortalized the image on canvas - a picture which later became iconic. This cluster of trees is a national monument and still looks exactly the same as when Baines painted it in the 1800’s. Birdwatching is also a favored activity for visitors to Nxai Pan, with the chance to observe generous flocks of flamingos and pelicans, as well as Kori bustards, korhaans and red-necked falcons.
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